Book Fiftythree: Great Expectations

Great Expectations, Charles Dickens



Perhaps I say this all the time whilst in the middle of a really good book, but I swear I meant it this time when I declared to C the other day, "This is the best book I've ever read!" And now, having finished it I can say the feeling still remains, and even more so. Will I still feel the same after I read two or three more really good books and declare them to be the best books ever? Maybe not, but I sure hope so! I hope my memory of the fantastic writing, the beautiful characters, the crazy plot, and the insane imagery stay with me for as long as am able to read.

As I am not good at giving plot overviews, I will leave it at this: young Pip escapes his poor upbringing after a very generous--and very unknown--person bequeaths him a large amount of money in order that he become a gentleman. Pip doesn't mind leaving his former life behind because he has detested his poverty ever since meeting cruel Estella and her guardian, Miss Havisham. And, obviously, the crueler Estella is, the more he loves her, a fact that drives much of the plot.

What strikes me now is that it feels as if the book took place in an England that consisted of, let's say, 20 people. Funny how the same characters keep coming around again and again and are all connected in some crazy way. Is this a stock element of the Victorian novel? Either way, it definitely works for me. Especially when the characters are so freaking great: the escaped convict that Pip encounters on the marshes as a young lad; Pip's comically abusive older sister who watches over him along with her super-duper-loverly husband, Joe the blacksmith (can we all have a Joe in our lives?); the infamous Miss Havisham in her greying and decaying wedding dress and her stand-still life; Mr. Jaggers the lawyer; Mr. Pocket who, in his frazzledness, pulls his hair so that he seems to lift himself out of his chair; and, probably my most favorite character ever (ever!), Mr. Wemmick. Oh, Mr. Wemmick! I could write pages and pages on how much I adore you. I love your ideas on portable property, your Aged Parent (is it wrong to look forward to the day I get to take care of my own Aged P?), your drawbridge and cannon, your generosity underneath all that stinginess, your Miss Skiffins, and your post-office like face.

There is simply so much good to be had here. There is Action and Adventure! There is Romance. There is Mystery. There is Horror. There is Morality. Yes, there is definitely a lot of Morality. But dosed in such a way that one feels that, yes, I can swallow that Morality and no, sir, it's not bitter at all. Because this is essentially a story of poverty and overcoming one's own background, and it asks if that's really possible or if, perhaps, the source of one's wealth is important at all. And, really what is wealth? One of my favorite demonstrations of this whole wealth vs. poverty notion is illustrated with Pip's back-to-back dinners with Mr. Jaggers and Mr. Wemmick. Jaggers, with all the visual trappings of wealth all around him, a man who doesn't lock his doors at night because he dares anyone to try to break in and steal from him, turns out to be stingy with his food and his dinner guests. But Wemmick, with his guarded home and its moat and drawbridge and his own outward stinginess proves to be the most generous of all, not just with his food but with the sharing of his affections and the sharing of his life.

And there you have my English 101 reading of Great Expectations. You're welcome.

Sidenote: this book features the best wedding ever. "Halloa! Here's a church!" "Halloa! Here's a couple of pair of gloves!" "Halloa! Here's a ring!"

Sigh. I'd like to marry you, Great Expectations.

2 Comments:

Blogger raych said...

Coincidence was A Thing in Victorian novels over which MUCH INK has been spilled. People love it or they hate it (I, myself, am a fan), but the Victorians ate it up. See also: The Woman in White.

Wemmick is a darling, with his post-box mouth. Also, interesting and BOGGLING side-bar, Miss Havisham is only in her 30s or so when Pip is paid to play at her house. I KNOW, RIGHT? In your mind, wasn't she so old? She's older later, when she catches on fire. Which, awesomest ending to a vindictive hag.

October 21, 2010 at 7:40 PM  
Blogger arajane said...

Yay! I knew when I posed that questions that you would be the one to answer it. Thank ye! Also, I spent the whole book trying to figure out how old everyone was. And then I noticed at the back of my edition an appendix that had the relative ages of the major characters. Glad I didn't see it sooner because Spoilers! But also wishing I had known this because no one was the right age. Miss Havisham was about 90 in my head, and when Joe married Biddy I imagined him to be almost 60 and her to be about 20. Which isn't too far off, but still.

October 21, 2010 at 8:15 PM  

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